Thursday, June 16, 2011

Susan Schneider talks about The Wedding Writer and the wedding biz

When I first met Susan Schneider, I felt like we had been friends forever--that's how warm and funny she is. It fascinated me that she had worked for years in the bridal industry, and when I found out she had written a book based on her experiences, that intrigued me even more!  I can't thank Susan enough for being here on my blog and answering my questions.

What's so wonderful about your novel are the you-are-there behind the scenes episodes about how the bridal industry works. All of it true?

Tip of the iceberg! It’s a striving, gritty business filled with smart, talented women with agendas. The wedding magazines historically were huge, slumbering cash cows. With the Internet everything changed—print advertising took a great big hit. A couple of years ago Conde Nast folded Modern Bride and Elegant Bride, and many, many accomplished editors (old friends of mine) were thrown out of work. What does an out-of-work bridal editor do when she gets “divorced’ from her job? But even before the Internet and the recession, things could get really scary. When I was at Modern Bride, the editor in chief brutally fired the long-time fashion editor, a brilliant, iconic woman beloved in the industry who was also the sole support of two children. How could one woman, also a mother, do that to another? Issues of power and control, what else? Behind the veil lurk nasty power struggles as well as deep and meaningful friendships between women working together to create a beautiful product.

What was it like for you working in the bridal industry for so long? I see you have some great blurbs from the industry but do you think there are some things about it the industry would rather keep secret?

I saw weddings get more and more elaborate and expensive—I saw women with modest means trying to emulate celebrity weddings and the weddings of the wealthy. Yikes! I understand the desire to be beautiful and admired, but as a deep-down feminist I also wished that more women could be like those who call a time-out and say, “Hey, my having or not having this $10,000 dress will neither make me or break me as a human being.”  Many of us tried to reassure engaged women that they really don’t have to have a “perfect” day—in fact there is no such thing! But bridal editorial is always slanted toward the notion of “perfection.”  Achieving your day of bliss. It leaves in its wake lots of overwhelmed, confused, anxious women in white dresses who’ve spent too much money and still wonder if they failed.

I also loved the way you dissected office politics (which really can occur anywhere, not just in the bridal business). Would you say that in many ways working at an office is like a marriage of sorts? (Some happier than others?)

That is so true! The specific dynamic at bridal magazines and indeed all women’s magazines is that those “marriages” are played out between women. I’ve always been an executive editor to the editor in chief, so my role was “wife.”  With one editor the “marriage” totally failed; we got a divorce! In another I became an enabler—another eventual divorce. In a way an office is just a backdrop against which people act out their family or marital issues—that’s why office politics can be so murderous.

What is your writing life like?

For me it’s been quite a struggle. As a single working mother, I had to raise a child in NYC and also bring home the bacon. Then my daughter grew up and out of the house and other things in my life got a bit easier. But I can’t write if: I’m worried about my daughter or I’m worried about money. Or if I’m worried about a relationship with a man. Life interrupts writing all the time, and you can’t do much about that, but I do try to keep on an even keel. I don’t need the “perfect” environment—the little cottage in the woods—I just need relative peace and financial security. And oh boy, thank God for aging! Your life gets pared down and you can focus better.

What's obsessing you now?
My rooftop garden on West 80th Street. How I love it! It is so critical for city people to find some way to be with nature. Even if it’s just a houseplant you like, you need to commune with it everyday.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?
This covers it nicely for me.

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